Paralegals: Your business acumen could set you apart from the crowd

A wealth of paralegal experience is not always a hindrance in the hunt for an elusive training contract, writes Charlotte Parkinson

Recently published statistics revealed that some firms are more likely than others to offer training contracts to their paralegals: the trend suggested that City firms are not as interested in training their paralegals to become solicitors.

A reason for this might be the fact that these firms select their trainees so early. The second year of the LLB is when most firms take the opportunity to find the best students to recruit. Unfortunately, some candidates may not be at the ‘right’ university, not necessarily because of their ability, but sometimes due to their background and lack of access to quality education prior to university. This system does little for diversity and social mobility.

Firms should consider that some candidates choose not to apply in their second year or that their first-year grades do not truly reflect their ability. These candidates may then go on to excel, particularly when they become a paralegal. They develop skills that come from working in a law firm as well as gaining an understanding of the firm’s culture.

Some firms do recruit from their paralegals, so aspiring trainees, while being wary of the market, should not be deterred from opportunities to improve their skills in the period between education and training. Some people apply for paralegal roles because they want to continue their studies part-time and fund as they go or because they want more experience.

Some do not ever want to qualify as a solicitor. However, a significant proportion of paralegals are still hunting for their training contract, having been unsuccessful in obtaining one by the time they finish university, the graduate diploma in law, or the legal practice course. If a candidate is in this group, then the firm may wonder why they don’t have a training contract already and consider that they are not good enough to be a trainee, even though they might be happy to hire them as a paralegal. However, not all paralegal work is legal work and therefore a paralegal could demonstrate they are a good worker but not get the opportunity to prove they will become a good lawyer.

A paralegal role is just one option for gaining experience while working towards a training contract. Another is to do something completely non-legal and work within a business, developing invaluable skills needed for a future career in law but also giving you a sector specialism and the much sought-after ‘commercial awareness’. After all, if you’re up against candidates with less work experience, your business acumen could set you apart from the crowd.

Due to inconsistencies in the current system, the Solicitors Regulation Authority is developing a centralised assessment to replace the current training framework. While we know there will be an undefined period of work experience incorporated into the solicitors qualifying examination, it is unclear whether training contracts are set to become a thing of the past. This causes concern that some firms will start recruiting their solicitors at an even younger age and that the issue of social mobility and diversity in the profession will only increase.

Charlotte Parkinson is a member of the Junior Lawyers Division committee.

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 16 February 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.

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